More thoughts on the presentation of science

I’m re-listening to the podcast grab of the TV show that Matt and I did yesterday. There is a point that I started to make about the framing of science, but I don’t think I carried it all the way through to its conclusion.

What I did say, at the time, was that contrary to Matt Nisbet’s bloviations, science does NOT have the “framing” problem of being associated with atheism. Instead, science has the problem of being perceived as boring. The stereotypical image of a science teacher is a dull, droning guy reeling off disconnected facts. Not unlike Ben Stein’s own infamous Ferris Bueller character, if you will. (“Does anyone know what Vice President Bush called this in 1980? Anyone? Something-d-o-o economics. Voodoo economics.”) And so, I concluded, science could actually benefit from more public controversy.

I have more to add to this. Science doesn’t have a problem with not being respected. In fact, despite its stodgy image, science is almost universally accepted in our culture as important and worthy of respect. There is no clearer example of this to be found than in the behavior of creationists. When they lost some early battles in the 60’s they retitled their subject to creation science. When that failed to work, they reacted by redoubling their efforts to make “intelligent design” (a.k.a. “Creationism, the Revenge”) sound less like religion and more like science.

And finally, when people in the ID movement want to boost their own image in the public eye, what rhetorical approach do they take? Why, ID is real science, and evolution is unscientific! Look at all these people who have signed on to this statement titled as “A Scientific Dissent From Darwinism”. It says right here that “Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.” See? That’s not religious at all!

What I’m saying is, in the general battle for science vs. religion, science has already won. In order to make their points more palatable, creationists have to pretend that they’re doing science. And beyond the world of creationism, there is a whole industry of pseudoscientists who peddle their wares by filling the descriptions with science jargon-imitating gobbledygook.

Acceptance of science is not the problem. Convincing people to understand science is the problem — studying is hard, scientists are boring, I’m never going to use this in real life, blah blah blah.

When atheists point out that scientific literacy tends to undermine religion, you might say that they’re doing the same thing as creationists: using the already well-established respected status that science has, and associating themselves with science to receive some of that credibility by proxy. On the other hand, associating atheism with education and science literacy also has the advantage of being true.

Should we obscure that fact, as Matt Nisbet seems to constantly suggest? Hell no. Nisbet would have you believe that the “culture war” is over whether you can get these foolish savages to accept our modern ways and incorporate this new-fangled “science” into their culture. On the contrary, however, they’ve already done that. They all have their own TVs and internet connections and microwave ovens and cars. The job that we, as people who care about education, have before us is to leverage that acceptance of science, tell the truth about how to think critically and evaluate claims, and ridicule the hell out of intelligent design for the phony snake oil sideshow that it is.

If more people are persuaded to become atheists after being so educated, that’s just a fortunate byproduct.


  1. says

    Perception of truth is also very important. Science would say it was an Asteroid Destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah but my book, The Bible, already told us about it and said it was God himself that destroys wicked cites. My question to you all is what are you going to do as the years go on and science itself proves, without doubt, that God exists and the Bible is truth. I bet your presuppositions won’t allow you to even trust science then. Then what are you going to believe? Would you trust science and believe that God exists as the Bible says, or would you still believe in quack evolutionists who want to be enemies of God, like Richard Dawkins. We are warned that friendship with the worldly lifestyle and that which espouses the “things” of the world, makes us an “enemy of God” (James 4:4). That is because such people embrace the “spirit of the world” and not “the spirit which is of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). Those people speak about the things of the world, and the world listens to them (1 John 4:5).God’s people may be “base” and “weak”–even “foolish” in the eyes of the world (1 Corinthians 1:27-28). Since the great Creator God has chosen us out of the world (John 15:19), it should not surprise us that the world “hates” those who belong to the Lord Jesus (John 17:14). Hence, the ungodly passions that drive the ungodly behavior of the world, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16).Those passions and the people who embrace them will “pass away.” But “he that doeth the will of God abideth forever” (1 John 2:17).

  2. Martin says

    I think science does, to a degree, having a “framing problem” of being associated with atheism, but it’s a recent frame the creos have been pushing as a last-ditch desperation measure following countless failed attempts to get creationist snake oil like ID accepted as mainstream science. The wedge strategy is failing, and so all they have left is to demonize science by spinning the “evolution=atheism-Hitler=mass murder” canard. If you can’t join em, beat em.Nisbet’s stupidity is that, in his hand-wringing whine-fests about how science needs to “frame” itself so as not to offend the religious, he cannot see that he’s playing directly into the creationists’ own frame. A great case in point was the recent “PZ got expelled” fiasco. The Expelled team, in a display of incompetence that is literally legendary, handed the pro-science side a stunning PR coup wrapped up in the perfect frame: They revealed themselves to be brazen liars and hypocrites by not allowing a dissenting voice (and one of their own interview subjects!) into a movie whose main thematic goal is to argue that scientists are the ones who routinely suppress dissenting voices! That’s a “frame” anyone can understand, and the result was devastating for Expelled. As Dawkins noted, the blogs were “ringing with ridicule,” and the film’s producers had to scramble to save face by trotting out lie after lie after lie about what happened at the Minneapolis screening.Then along comes that stupid motherfucker Nisbet and wags his fingers at Dawkins and Myers, tells them, in effect, they’re the bad guys, and hands the creationists exactly the “frame” that they’ve been wanting and pushing themselves! Shit, they featured his post on Uncommon Descent. That’s Nisbet’s great tragedy. He thinks he’s some big “framing” expert, but his every effort is an epic fail that simply plays into creationists’ hands. I think he’s a prime example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect, myself.

  3. Martin says

    Dan showed up again with today’s comedy relief:My question to you all is what are you going to do as the years go on and science itself proves, without doubt, that God exists and the Bible is truth.If science ever were to prove that, we’d accept it. If science were ever to prove leprechauns or unicorns or pixies or fire-breathing dragons existed, we’d accept that evidence too. Science, however, has not proven your ancient storybook is truth yet, Dan, and continues not to do so despite the desperate efforts of desperate religionists who hope that one day it will, “without doubt.” In fact, what we get, on almost a daily basis, is further understanding of the real history of the world and of biodiversity as evolutionary science has revealed it to us. And it’s knowledge that’s far more magnificent, more glorious, and more exciting and wondrous to know than anything cooked up by a bunch of Bronze Age fabulists and religious scribes who simply didn’t have the understanding people have today.Remember, Dan, you’re scientifically illiterate, and the scientists aren’t. So you’re not really at an advantage here in being able to predict what science will or won’t prove “as the years go on.” You’re free to remain stuck in the Bronze Age, but the rest of the human race has passed you up long ago.However, there is one thing about Dan’s comment that does support what Kazim was saying: By expressing his hope that science will one day prove his precious Bible to be true in all particulars, Dan has demonstrated that science has won the “framing” battle. Even a simpleton like Dan understands that his myths need the validation of science to be taken seriously on an intellectual level. So Nisbet’s whole premise that science has a “framing problem” is falsified by a post from our favorite creationist comedian. Now, all Dan needs to learn is that it takes more than childish bluster to scientifically validate those myths: make with the evidence, Dan.

  4. says

    Oh man I was excited when I listened to the podcast this morning and found it was all about framing. I think you did a pretty decent treatment of it. I think about framing every day, and I try to communicate what I’ve learned about it at every opportunity.The main thing that I’d point out is that framing is about manipulating the frame. That means you have to understand what the frame is.With politics, the frame is the moral view of the family. That’s different than the view of the family. The moral view means that you see the family a certain way, and you’re good. See it another way that I don’t agree with, and you’re bad. Morality is a discriminator, and that’s why these arguments work so well in politics. We’re trying to find the good and bad ways of running the country, and we’re persuading people to go along with us.With science, it’s not the same thing. I think you guys realized it, but didn’t quite state it directly. In science, we don’t have competing ideas of how to do science. We don’t have competing groups of scientists that are making moral judgements on the other, and making claims that their way of doing science is better. Instead in science, we have competing ideas that are judged on their merits. We’re selling the ideas, but within the FRAMEwork of science, nobody’s saying that Dawkins is a REAL scientist and Hawkings is a big fake. Framing is often built on a foundation on who is a good member of the group, or who is doing the right thing in a good/bad sense. If you’re not disagreeing on that basis, then the nature of framing seems to move from an emotional basis to a rational basis, which allows scientists to see their ideas rationally instead of emotionally.Astrologers don’t subscribe to the scientific frame. That’s why the term “double blind study” just bounces off their skull. And conversely “prayer” as a method of investigation bounces off the skulls of scientists. All statements uttered are interpreted by the listener in terms of the frames they subscribe to. Statements that do not fit into the active frame are discarded.So, the answer to scientific framing is surprisingly simple. Teach science. Actively explain why science works. State astrology, prayer, and such in terms of science – this means you criticise these things scientifically by explaining why they are crap from a scientific viewpoint.

  5. says

    “My question to you all is what are you going to do as the years go on and science itself proves, without doubt, that God exists and the Bible is truth.”You forgot the question mark, but that’s understandable. If science proves, without doubt, that God exists and the Bible is truth – I’ll believe it.There are two quick points to make on this issue, however…1. What makes you think this is likely – or even possible? Confirming the destruction of a city (which isn’t completely confirmed) does nothing to confirm the claim that it was the result of supernatural intervention.2. Believing is one thing – worshiping is another. If the Bible is demonstrated to be true and that God exists, he’s got a lot of explaining to do before worship ever becomes a remote possibility…and I’m not sure that I could truly “worship” any being.If the Bible is true, your God has set up a cosmic justice system based on capriciousness that doesn’t represent anything we’d recognize as true justice. Any system that allows the possibility of a murdering pedophile reaping the rewards of paradise while an otherwise ethically-decent apostate is denied this, whether through extermination or eternal punishment, is a corrupt system.Your god, if he exists isn’t worthy of worship. He advocates slavery, condones human sacrifice, supports mutilation, wars of extermination and countless other injustices. He’s a mafia boss…give him his vig and you’ll stay on his good side, refuse him and he’ll fuck you up.If that god exist, then he is the very definition of evil – because he’s managed to convince good people that he’s some kind and loving father figure. Hmm…God-father…Fortunately, he can’t make me an offer I can’t refuse…I have more integrity than the characters in your archaic myths.

  6. says

    Well there you go Matt D you just answered my question then. First was sort of rhetorical because I knew that your presupposition would get in the way.“I bet your presuppositions won’t allow you to even trust science then. Then what are you going to believe? Would you trust science and believe that God exists as the Bible says, or would you still believe in quack evolutionists who want to be enemies of God, like Richard Dawkins.”Remember the only question I really did ask is “Then what are you going to believe?” And you answered it by stating “self”And then you proved it by your response.Or in your words: “I have more integrity than the characters in your archaic myths.” i.e. you will still worship self. This was already addressed in the Bible in Romans 1:20-25 “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.” May God have mercy on your souls,Dan

  7. Martin says

    Poor, poor Dan.Remember the only question I really did ask is “Then what are you going to believe?” And you answered it by stating “self”No he didn’t, you illiterate manchild. He answered:If science proves, without doubt, that God exists and the Bible is truth – I’ll believe it.He then went on at length to explain the moral failings of Christianity. His mistake, however, was in crediting you with sufficient intelligence to understand him.

  8. says

    I have to say, Russell’s ten minute “US vs THEM” explanation about framing atheism was some of the best stuff — outside of a Jeff Dee caller slap-down — I’ve ever heard on the show.Thank goodness Matt forced Russell to explain this by asking, point blank, “but Russell, what do YOU think about how we should be framing atheism?”

  9. Martin says

    Matt, you left out the bit about your top secret necromancy research program at the subterranean Antarctic base to create a personal army of 200,000 flesh-eating zombies….Or was I not supposed to say anything?

  10. says

    I didn’t write the entry and the individual who toured the facility and wrote the entry wasn’t given access to the zombie research facility.You see, he has a brain…and we all know how the zombies would react to that.-Matt

  11. says

    Dan wrote:“Remember the only question I really did ask is “Then what are you going to believe?” And you answered it by stating “self””Actually, you asked another question, you simply forgot to put a question mark at the end.However, let’s go ahead and address your objection:What’s wrong with believing in one’s self? This isn’t a simple “I am now god” proposition, it’s a demonstration that one is both responsible for one’s actions and confident in one’s ability to make good decisions – when based on good information.I didn’t imply that I’d “believe in self” in the sense that you infer, I implied that I’d willingly follow the reliable, scientific evidence, wherever it may lead.As usual, you ignored the points made, responded to the response you imagined – and even that isn’t a problem.Yes, I “believe in” myself. I exist. I find no evidence that any other being exists who has direct access to my mind or is in any way involved with my ability to process sensory data. Yet you seem to fault me for not latching on to this transcendent mind-spy.Why?“This was already addressed in the Bible in Romans 1:20-25″I’m pretty sure we’ve already told you that quoting Bible verses will only serve to weaken your argument. The Bible carries no weight with me.However, it does for you, and it’s no surprise that you leap to Romans. It’s the feel-good book for the delusional. Fortunately, it’s a good source for demonstrating the absurdity of Christianity.God curses us. He creates the law, knowing no one can keep it, only to make us more aware of the lowly reprobates he thinks we are. As no one can ever meet his standards (and we’re talking about people he created and standards he created – making him completely responsible for the problem), he creates a loophole. This loophole allows him to play favorites and excuse some people from the law – those who are obedient and humble (or those who simply believe, or those he predestined, etc. – depending on which unknown or known author you choose to rely on). They’re no longer subject to the law…but they should try to keep it anyway…even though they can’t…even though it doesn’t really matter…it does matter…and they should try.Romans is Paul at his worst, trying to justify the absurd doctrines of original sin and unjustified salvation – while trying to present the ultimate source of this problem as both loving and just.It’s laughable, unless your brain is already twisted and looking for something to make you feel special. And that’s one of Paul’s biggest points in Romans – believers are the special ones. They don’t deserve it, but they’re special anyway…and those who aren’t in the special club? They’ll pay…and the special ones should feel secure in the knowledge that the others will get the punishment they deserve – while the special relish in the wonder of avoiding the punishment they believe they deserve.I could go on and on (and I have), but I’ll skip right to the end of your post:“May God have mercy on your souls,Dan”I’m glad you’re feeling particularly special today. I criticize a religion, you reply with a condescending veiled threat. It must be good to feel so special. Fortunately, I don’t think your god exists and I don’t think a soul exists…if I’m wrong, it’s already clear that the god you believe in will NOT have mercy on my soul.So, by asking him to have mercy on my soul, aren’t you asking him to make a special exception for people who don’t fit into his other loophole?Now, kindly go away. You bring nothing new to the table and I’m sick of you putting your smelly feet on it while the rest of us are trying to eat.

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